Alan Anderson wept when he saw the pictures. No wonder.
The photographer recalls flipping through 125 proofs of photos taken at the John Carroll School senior prom about five years ago. Each shot had a black bar directly through the faces because of a broken part on a shutter.
"There wasn't one salvageable photo," he says. "I literally sat there and cried, not because of lost revenue, but because none of these students would have pictures from an important night in their young lives."
Mr. Anderson quickly called the principal to explain and promise refunds.
The photographer not only survived the snafu mistake but has thrived.
He's taking senior photos once more. Next month, he and two other photographers with whom he works will begin shooting yearbook pictures at 12 high schools for the Class of 1994.
They'll spend three to four days at each school, shooting 50,000 to 60,000 images of about 3,000 students, who can buy packages ranging from $23 for eight standard wallet-size shots to $349.95 for 112 pictures in various sizes from any four poses.
Not all the pictures will be your conventional smiling mugs and formal wear.
In his 12 years of shooting high school pictures, Mr. Anderson has found, some prefer the unconventional ` like the girl at Mercy High School in Baltimore who came with her father, her brother ` and her pet snake, an 8-foot boa.
Mr. Anderson snapped a shot with the boa wrapped around the girl, its head resting on her shoulder.
"We've taken many photos of students with their pets," he says. "Usually they are dogs, cats, horses and an occasional pig. Only once a snake, thank goodness."
Then there was the shoot at North East High School in Cecil County when a young man and his buddies showed up wearing shorts and T-shirts.
"We ended up having the group remove their T-shirts and putting on bow ties," Mr. Anderson recalls. "It was our version of ++ the 'Chippendales,' and each of the fellows ordered a package from us."
At Bel Air High School, a male student once walked into the auditorium wearing a helmet.
"He explained he rode a motorcycle to the session," says Mr. Anderson. "Within 15 minutes we had him and his motorcycle in front of the camera."
Mr. Anderson, a native of Huntington, N.Y., arrived in Harford County with his wife, Jane, in 1967. The graduates of Grove City (Pa.) College had accepted teaching positions in the county.
Until 1981, he taught English at Aberdeen High School, where he was adviser to the school's yearbook, literary magazine and drama club. He also developed a two-semester curriculum in photography before leaving teaching to take up photography full time.
Two years ago, Mr. Anderson joined forces with William Franz, who takes more undergraduate yearbook pictures than almost anyone in the state, to form Franz-Anderson.
Mr. Anderson also shoots wedding pictures, working with partner and longtime friend Hal Mayer. The 12-year-old company, Anderson-Mayer, shoots 40 to 60 weddings a year.
Today, a dozen years after walking away from the teaching profession, Mr. Anderson has more than $100,000 invested in equipment; an office staff of five; and enough work to keep him busy 60 to 75 hours a week.
In this, the springtime season of "senior-itis" especially, it is a calling he finds endlessly fulfilling.
"I'll be doing what I like best," he says, "creating an image a youngster will cherish for the rest of his or her life ` a yearbook photo."